Meat and Potatoes: It’s a sound-bite world, so if you’ve only a passing interest in the Rangers’ farm system, this ‘graph is all you. Bottom line: it’s much better than it was. As we enter what will be an utterly fascinating winter for the big league roster, my hope is we look back on 2017 as the summer when the club truly began to pack the powder back into the minors’ muskets for another round of pennant-chasing salvos. Don’t get me wrong, this ain’t weapons-grade Braves/Padres-level uranium, but it’s a start. On my flight home from Spring Training I spent 2 hours looking at my notes and desperately squinting for stars. Not guys who can get there and help in some capacity (Texas has those)- stars. And I didn’t see them. Neither did the industry. On the position player side, scouts often told me they only had 1st division grades on Leody Taveras and Condor Guzman, and a few had that mark on Jose Trevino. This ain’t 2012. Then the draft happened. And short-season and rookie ball fired up. And my concern turned to intrigue. Now, as instructs are complete and I’m collecting the thoughts of industry eyes, I’m more excited about the entire farm than I have been at any point in the last couple of seasons. There is high-ceiling, low-floor talent at the farthest lower levels. Kids who, while several years away from The Show, look like they might be more than fringy big leaguers. There’s a few kids who, when viewed through an optimist’s eyeglass, might become legit hundred-milly making ballers. History tells us we’ll be lucky to have even one of these lower-level lovers turn out this way, but we’re unabashed about this whole prospect-following thing being based on hope. Now we have some.
Here comes the minutiae. First off, as you know, there ain’t a lot of megahelp coming to the bigs anytime soon. The MLB team doesn’t defend well, doesn’t hit particularly well, and has 2 reliable starters in their rotation. Changes are a’ comin. The good news is they have a strength from which to deal: controllable, young left-handed power hitters. Not to mention an ideal “fresh start” candidate switch-hitting middle infielder, now with 3 seasons left before free agency. I’d bet on some moves bein’ made to fill some of the holes up top. Could someone like Yo Mendez light the room on fire in Surprise and win a backend spot? Sure. Did he look like that to me this season? No. Ariel Jurado had a rough one too, but he’s still my guy, so here we are, sinker in hand. Sadz is a reliever. Brett Martin will be 23 in April and has yet to eclipse 100ip in a season. I love them all, but I anticipate another year on the farm for my guys.
Two dudes who aced nearly every test in 2017 are Kyle Cody and Mike Matuella. Matuella’s season is deceiving because the numbers were (mostly) irrelevant. I had more than 1 Rangers employee told me, 2017 was all about keeping him healthy and teaching his body how to pitch again. And it worked. Sure, he’s gonna be 24 next June and we’ll always be dealing with a frame that can betray us (especially Mike himself), but it takes about 5 pitches for anyone watching him to realize there’s a dreamy amount of talent there. Stay with this youngin’. Cody is another 23 year old and man did this kid take to professional coaching. Here’s a full quote from a scout about Kyle: “Cody isn't a great athlete and he is older so the natural inclination is to say his upside is more limited...until you realize he hasn't had a ton of coaching and has shown improvement in a short period to the coaching he has been given. Yes the raw talent increasing is limited but what he can do with that is not. As long as he remains coachable and driven, he should improve.” So that’s cool.
I did see some potential MLB ‘pen arms that folks outside of us won’t be familiar with. Guys like Reed Garrett, who was running up lots of 97s and 98s as the season wound down for Frisco. And I think Gardewine and Ricky Rodriguez will remain middle-relievers with MLB potential for some time. Brady Feigl and Joe FIlomeno both gave up crooked numbers too often, but both are lefties capable of hummin’ mid-90s, so they’re always worth keeping an eye on. The 40-man decisions this winter are gonna be brutal and I can envision a scenario where as many as 6 or 7 guys are added, including Isiah Kiner-Falefa. I know at least 2 scouts who vocally prefer IKF’s MLB potential over Josh Morgan’s.
Make no bones about it, the juice was down low for the Rangers in 2017. Really low: rookie ball and short-season. Ragans went ‘nanas with the Ks. Basically, his wiggly 91-94 FB and potentially ++ CH were too much for the league. Hickory beckons and hopefully a healthy 110-ish inning season awaits him in 2018. Big Al Speas was exactly what we knew he would be: a project. The results from the ‘pen move were fantastic and though he’s still gonna be developed as a starter, the relief experience could end up paying dividends his entire career. Speas might have the fastest arm I’ve ever seen, but Hans might meme-out “hold my beer” next Spring. Sweet Mary, this kid! Scouts were laughing at me when I asked what they thought after seeing him in AZL action. Not laughing because he was bad, but laughing because they knew I was gonna pee my pants with excitement. “You’re gonna write a lot of weird shit about this kid for sure because you’re going to love him.” “He’s sitting 97 and his slider would miss big league bats today.” Trying to contain myself.
Bubba Thompson pushed through some knee tendinitis to let us know he knows more about hitting than we thought he knew. Shortstop Chris Seise parlayed his plus glove and his double-plus makeup into a promotion to Spokane while former Oral Roberts-er Matt Whatley declared himself to be a backstop dude. Miguel Aparicio looks like an interesting MLB OF candidate, Pedro Gonzalez got enough buzz in Instructs to become a Player to Be Named A Dude Later, and Anderson Tejeda continues to fly under the radar as a potentially very interesting young player. Jon Hernandez quietly had another season of 20+ starts and 8+K per 9ip. He might be a reliever someday, but he’s definitely got a live arm capable of carrying him to the big leagues.
Keep an eye on Tyree Thompson, Adam Choplick, and Tyler Phillips. Phillips especially. Scouts like him and think there could be something there. He and Melvin Novoa are gonna sneak up on some folks in the coming years. Melvin shook off his PED suspension and can really catch and throw, and he loves to make contact at the plate. Look for the 21 year old to appear on some lists soon.
And Leody. Ahhhh, Leody. 577 plate appearances as an 18 year-old. The expected wibbles, wobbles highs and lows of a first season of everyday baseball happened, but Leody pushed on. The numbers weren’t spectacular, but the makeup and the fortitude were, so he remains ensconced at the top of the charts for Rangers prospects. Ragans and Hans are gonna push for the crown in the coming seasons, but they’re gonna have to pry it from Leody first. He’s a calm kid with a big leaguer’s swagger, and I can’t wait to see what he does in 2018.
So there you have it, the farm system in a nutshell. Is it a Top-10 system in the game? Probably not yet, but it’s better than it was this time last year, so that damn sure counts as a step in the right direction. I’m genuinely excited for the 2018 season. The Rangers just bought the Hickory franchise outright, and they already own Kinston. The investment they’ve made in the lower levels is legit and in 2018, the talent on the field should be as well.
As Always, Enjoy Baseball!